The Brooklyn Nets moved into first place in the Eastern Conference with the kind of all-hands, all-around performance that had all involved filling up columns on the box score.
With their 109-104 win over the Boston Celtics, the Nets improved to 40-20 and moved a half-game ahead of the Philadelphia 76ers in the race for the first seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
“You can’t win without it, and I think that’s why we’re in the position we’re in because we’ve had, I think, 33 different starting lineups and we’ve had different rotations and different combinations on the floor and guys have had to buy into the way we want to play and play for one another,” said Nets head coach Steve Nash. “So every night, it’s got to be someone else who steps up and has opportunities but also fits in with what we want to do. I think that speaks for the spirit of the group and the willingness to try to pick each other up and not worry about themselves but to worry about the group. That’s been fantastic, so it was a good performance. I thought (DeAndre Jordan) was great, I thought Bruce (Brown), although he was in foul trouble, did a lot of great things for us as usual. Right down the line, guys made plays for us.”
It wasn’t the strongest shooting night for the NBA’s No. 2 offense, but the Nets made up for it across the board.
Start with Kyrie Irving, who had a double-double with 15 points and 11 assists, just shy of a triple-double with nine rebounds, plus four steals.
“Ky had some steals, assists,” said Nash. “It was not his typical scoring night, but it’s few and far between when he doesn’t score the ball at a prolific rate. But he definitely disrupted the basketball game defensively, and overall, he draws a lot of attention. I thought he was great in a lot of different ways than we’re accustomed to and I thought his teammates really picked him up as well.”
“As a competitor I was just trying to go out there and do the little things, the small details, picking guys up or just being in the right position,” said Irving. “When you don’t have your legs on the offensive end, I felt like I was getting to where I wanted to go. A few angles, right, left, short, this that, just continuing to play, just continuing to have that mentality, next play, and I can have an impact with my teammates on both ends of the floor, just making the right play. It’s a simple game when you’ve got teammates that are out there that are in the right spots and they’re fulfilling their roles too.”
Brown, coming off consecutive double-doubles, had 15 points on 7-of-8 shooting with eight rebounds. Jordan was a basket shy of his own double-double with eight points and 11 rebounds, plus three blocks and three assists.
Joe Harris led Brooklyn with 20 points while making 4-of-7 3-pointers with four rebounds and three assists. Jeff Green scored 19 points. Blake Griffin had 13 points, five rebounds, and three assists and — in what is becoming a familiar sight in the boxscore — the Nets were a team-high plus-20 in his 23 minutes.
“Everybody who comes in contributes,” said Brown. “We’re always ready, next man up mentality. Ky didn’t have it going scoring tonight, so other guys had to step up and help him out. He did great everywhere else; I think he had three, four, five steals, so he helped us out defensively. We needed everybody tonight.”
The Nets sprinted to a season-high 32 fast break points in capitalizing off 12 steals, one shy of their season high, with 20 points off 19 Celtics turnovers.
“I think we turned them over quite a bit tonight,” said Nash. “They had 19 turnovers, so that got our break going. But we want to run. We want to push the ball, so that’s a good sign. A lot of activity defensively. We made our fair share of mistakes, but we made up for it with activity and got a lot of hands on balls and deflections and things like that and that started our break.”
A second-quarter scoring outburst turned the game around for Brooklyn after the Nets trailed 25-21 at the end of the first quarter. After Payton Pritchard’s 3-pointer to open the quarter put the Celtics up 28-21, the Nets took off on a 12-0 run.
A Harris 3-pointer started it, and after Griffin scored inside, Brown rang up seven straight points, capped by a 3-pointer that put the Nets up 33-28 just 2:30 into the second quarter. The Nets extended that into an 18-3 run after 3-pointers from Green and Griffin for a 39-31 lead.
With the Nets leading 47-41, Green made two free throws, and Irving assisted on three straight baskets — a Brown transition layup, a lob to Jordan for a dunk, and long pass to Landry Shamet off a Boston turnover for a transition dunk and a 55-41 lead. The Brooklyn led was still 14 after a Green 3-pointer made it 60-46 and they went into halftime leading 60-51 after a 39-point second quarter in which they made 7-of-11 3-pointers.
Boston trimmed the Brooklyn lead to six points in the third quarter, but the Nets outscored the Celtics 12-3 to close the quarter. With the Nets up 76-70, Harris scored, Irving made two free throws, and Harris followed with consecutive 3-pointers for an 86-70 lead as Brooklyn went on to carry an 88-73 lead into the fourth quarter.
With the Nets leading 98-84, Boston scored 11 straight — including three 3-pointers — to get within 98-95 with 3:30 remaining. Harris answered with a 3-pointer and Green threw down a transition dunk to put the Nets back up 103-95. Boston’s Jayson Tatum converted a three-point play and followed up making 1-of-2 free throws with 30.6 seconds left to cut the Brooklyn lead back down to four points. Shamet made two free throws with 26.0 seconds left to put the Nets up 105-99.
“We're resilient. No matter who’s on the floor we're gonna go out and battle,” said Green. “We're gonna do what's needed for the night to try and figure out a way to get a W. And we've been doing that this whole season regardless of whose on the court. That gives confidence for coach, going into games especially when all the guys come back. So it's been great, it's been great. The minutes that a lot of guys are getting is gonna be big down the stretch for when we need it.”